After last night’s controversial flagrant foul call turned an apparent Purdue victory into a heartbreaking defeat, Boilermaker fans are understandably upset. Leading by four with under a minute left, D.J. Byrd slowly swung his arms while being trapped on the sideline by two Villanova defenders. While doing so, he may have made contact with Darrun Hilliard’s face, and after an official review, it was deemed to get a Flagrant 1 foul.
“...a player who swings an elbow and makes non-excessive contact with an opponent above the shoulders.”
If Byrd made contact at all - and that’s a big IF - it didn’t appear that it was with his elbow. To the letter of the law, any elbow contact with an opponent above the shoulders qualifies as a Flagrant 1. Whether it was blatant or excessive is irrelevant. But, what if the contact was with Byrd’s triceps? Does that qualify as Flagrant 1? Did the officials see something definitive that the viewers at home did not? (Video of the play at 1:10. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.)
Much like the “blow to the head” rule in the NFL (i.e. when a defensive end gets penalized fifteen yards for merely brushing the helmet of a quarterback), the implementation of the Flagrant 1 call goes against the spirit of the rule. The same ruling victimized Will Sheehey and Indiana last year in their NCAA Tournament matchup with VCU. That call, while technically correct, was a big one considering Sheehey barely brushed the chin of a Rams’ defender with his elbow. Awarding two free throws plus the ball for inadvertent contact is completely absurd.
By including the word “elbow”, the NCAA's flagrant rule is far too specific. The NBA rule gives officials much more leeway. A Flagrant 1 on the pro level is “unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent.” It says nothing about the elbow. The league leaves it to the official’s discretion whether or not the contact is flagrant (read: excessive). The NCAA rulebook needs adopt the same wording.
As for what this means for Purdue, it’s another early season blow. Their free throw shooting woes (16-28 last night) from 2011-12 have continued, and they’re still missing a go-to scorer (Byrd? Terone? Ronnie?) They’ll still have chances to score Tournament resume-building wins with Notre Dame, Xavier, West Virginia, and possibly Clemson, before they get into Big Ten play. However, a loss, albeit a controversial one, to a Villanova team that was picked to finish 12th in the Big East doesn’t inspire confidence.